Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica- Luc Touchard (24 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have, perhaps, found my lad, though I am not sure how well he will like it. For that matter, I am not sure how well I will like it. His name is Luc Touchard. He's a smaller lad than most in Bertrand's crew, and he is both quick and quick-witted. He may have the Former's Gift; I think he does, but it is too soon to tell.

Two things are necessary to the making of a master former. (I can hear my father's voice echoing in my head as I write. How I used to loath his lectures, and how essential I shall find them now!) Two things are necessary, as I say. The lad must have the Gift, and the lad must have the wit. "A stupid fellow with the Gift might find work at one of His Majesty's shipyards, providing brute strength to a team of formers, but he will never be able to work on his own or to represent the Guild in any way!" So quoth my father to me on many occasions; and he nearly always followed it up with, "Is that what you want for yourself, lad? I won't have it, I tell you! I won't have it!"

Luc has the wit; and he may well have the Gift. Of all the boys here on the island, he alone might have both. I can look farther afield if I must, but one thing at a time.

This morning I found Bertrand in the mess hall (for the boys whose families are down below eat and sleep here on Le Blaireau) and told him to bring his lads to see me in my workshop this afternoon; and that I'd arranged with some of the young men to take over the watch for that period of time.

"Oh, monsieur," he said. "You don't want to do that. They won't keep watch as well as we do." He's a proud lad, is Bertrand; and of course, being captain of the boys gives him considerable prestige.

"Not to worry, Bertrand, it's just for this afternoon. I'm looking for a lad to help me with my work."

His face got pale. " Moi, monsieur? But—"

"You are perfectly well-employed where you are, Bertrand. You're doing excellent work. But one of your lads might have the skills I need. I won't know until I speak with them." Bertrand is a sharp lad, but I have worked with him enough to be quite sure that he hasn't the Gift.

"Oui, monsieur."

I lunched with Amelie and little Anne-Marie, and when I came out to my workshop, I found Bertrand and his lads in residence. Or, rather, all but one of them. Bertrand was sitting on my workbench with his lieutenant Jean-Marc by his side, and ten or twelve other lads lolled about on the floor, but one was missing.

"Bertrand, where's the other boy?"

"Other boy, monsieur?" Bertrand is skilled at getting in trouble, or at least he was before I put him in harness, but his facial expressions are most transparent.

"Yes, the other boy. I don't know his name, but I have often seen him with you and Jean-Marc."

Bertrand shrugged a little, and continued trying to look blank.

"I saw him sitting next to you at breakfast this morning. Sandy hair? About a head shorter than you?"

At that, Bertrand deflated. "Oui, monsieur." He dropped down from the workbench and straggled out the door and around the corner, returning only a moment later with the boy I remembered. Apparently the lad had been listening from out of sight.

"And what's your name, lad?" I asked.

"Luc Touchard," he said.

"Your father's a farmer?"

"Oui, monsieur."

"Bon. Now, lads, here's what we're about. I'm looking for a smart young fellow to help me here in my workshop. I'm going to speak to each of you in private, over there; and when I'm done with you, you can go about your business. If you were to be on watch this afternoon, you can take a sled and go to your post; otherwise, you can do whatever you normally do. Do not come back to my workshop to talk with your friends. Got that?"

"Oui, monsieur," they all said, and inwardly I marveled. Authority is a peculiar thing, and somehow I have acquired it! I should never even have attempted to control such a large group of boys when I first came to Armorica.

"Bertrand, I rely on you and Jean-Marc to keep order. As I finish with each boy send the next along. Jean-Marc can come last." Jean-Marc is another boy that I know quite well; he hasn't the gift either, and truthfully I didn't intend to speak to him at all.

Bertrand nodded, but he had a gloomy expression on his face.

I walked across to the avenue to a bench outside the door to my quarters, and we began.

I have never examined candidates for apprenticeship before, and my memories of my own examination are dim; not that there was any chance that a son of my father's line would lack the Gift. But fortunately it is one of the things I was required to write into my grimoire prior to becoming a journeyman (not that I was ever allowed to journey); for a journeyman is on the way to being a master, and a master must know how to examine an apprentice.

The Gift cannot be seen with the naked eye, not quite. There are certain marks to look for: a certain cast to the eyes, a certain set of the chin. Formers tend to have long, thin fingers. These marks I could look for without commenting on them, and I did so. Then there were the questions. What was his earliest memory? Did he ever dream of strange lights? Had he heard voices not his own in the darkness? If so, what did they say? There are a number of these. No man now living knows what they mean, or why formers so often give the same answers to them, so my father said. But they do.

One lad, a dull, thick, fellow, had the chin and fingers I was looking for; and he had often dreamed of lights, among other things, but I could tell he would not do. He was a good lad, stolid and eager to please, but he lacked that spark of wit. In my father's hands he might make a steady but boring living in the shipyards, given a team of brighter formers to work with, but we were not doing that sort of work, nor do two formers make a team. I made a note of his name, though. The time might come when he can be of use, and his future children will be worth watching.

Others had one or two of the marks, or answered a question or two in the desired way, but this, my notes assured me, was not uncommon.

And finally there were three boys sitting across the way: Bertrand, Jean-Marc, and Luc. I waved, and Bertrand gritted his teeth and told Luc to go. Luc looked uncertain, and Bertrand shouted at him, and he came over hanging his head.

I'd feared it would come down to this. Luc had the eyes, and the chin; he had the fingers; and as I spoke with him it became clear that he also had the wit. He answered the questions well. I finished with a question that wasn't on the list.

"Bertrand seems to be a little upset. Can you tell me why?"

He shrugged, his face still downcast. He knew, all right, but he wasn't telling.

"Very well. If your father agrees, Luc, you are going to be working here with me in my shop as my apprentice. I will speak with him. For now, you may go."

"Oui, monsieur." He ran off, his head still down.

I walked over to where Bertrand and Jean-Marc were sitting.

"Thank you for your help, Bertrand," I said. "Luc will be working with me, now, I believe. You may go."

Bertrand was scowling as he went off. I shall have to find out what is behind that.

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Letters from Armorica- Lumber (21 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Ask me for anything but lumber!

Wood we have a-plenty—L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau is heavily forested, as are the surrounding lands below—but of seasoned lumber we have but little, and we need far more than we have. Lumber for housing here on the island, lumber for sky-chairs, wagons, and sleds, and just plain wood for cooking, these are in short supply. The problem is particularly acute now that I am working on the design for our transport wagons, which will have a minimum of formed parts. When I was hardening everything, it mattered little whether the wood was seasoned or not: once hardened, a plank will no longer warp or splinter. But our transport wagons will not be hardened, and so seasoned wood is essential.

Gah! I have been going over and over this in my head so that I can hardly sleep. I try to break it down. We must fell trees. We must cut them into timbers, which is slow work; we have no sawmill in Bois-de-Bas. We must let the timbers season; which means getting them under cover, which means we need to build sheds.

That's if we do all of the work here on the island; which means it's probably better to do it downside and store the timbers in Jean-le-Marique's woodshed. But that means moving some of the men back to Bois-de-Bas, a thing I am most reluctant to do. I suppose it is for the best, though. If we fell too many trees here on the island, the gaps will be immediately apparent to anyone who cares to look, and then where would we be?

But what shall we do for lumber in the meantime?

Marc tells me I must not worry. Folk have lived without sky wagons for all of recorded history until now; we will need to make war on le Maréchal's forces without them for a time. In the meantime, he says, we need more sleds and chairs. He has found the sleds to be the most effective way to get sentinels to and from their posts, just as we have here on the island; and he needs the chairs to build his lines of communication with the surrounding towns. A sky chair is much faster than a horse or mule, and can easily be hidden in the woods, out of sight.

Already he has sent messengers north and south, to Bois-de-Soleil and to Trouville, to speak to the leading men there and to sound them out. We must be careful; it is by no means clear that our neighbors will share our views. In addition, he has sent men on sleds to scout the road west towards Mont-Havre. The Provençese will be wondering what has happened to the sloops they sent our way, and the next wave of troops will likely be on foot. We must know where they are based, and when they are coming; and we must have plans to drive them away.

Marc, blessings upon him, has not asked me to participate in this planning, nor to use my gifts to create more weapons of war beyond those I have already designed. Yet I find that I am uneasy in my mind. When I sit of an evening, and hold my daughter, my beautiful Anne-Marie, I am filled with a kind of ferocity in which I would gladly destroy anyone who might threaten her, yes, and sow their fields with salt besides. But then I reflect that even the wicked Capitaine Le Clerc was a mother's son, and possibly also the father of children, children who are now orphans, and I find that my ferocity fades away.

Amelie, I may say, has no such qualms. "If les cochons come here, why, we will deal with them," she says. "They may live for all of me, so long as they live somewhere else, n'est-ce-pas?" And Madame Truc agrees with her. "You are too good for this war, mon fils," she says. "Mon cher mari and I did not come here to be hounded by the men of the old country. If he were here, zut alors! He would show them a thing."

If we are confined to using green wood for the coming months, then I must harden it; and if I must harden it, I must have an apprentice. Tomorrow I will start testing Bertrand's lads; perhaps one of them will have the gift.

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Letters from Armorica- Anne-Marie (14 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

And so now I am a father, and Amelie and I have a beautiful daughter. We have named her Anne-Marie.

It is the strangest thing to hear her little cries, oh so tiny, in this camp of war. She is not the only infant in Bois-de-Bois, indeed, but none of the smaller children have come to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau to date: Bertrand and his lads are the youngest.

I was not present for the birth, no of course not. When Amelie's time came, Madame Poquerie send Jacques to town with a sky-chair to fetch the mid-wife, and when he returned, Madame Truc, Madame Poquerie and Brigitte drove me from her Amelie's bedside.

"This is women's work, mon fils," said Madame Truc to me. "Go away. We will call you when it is over."

I suppose much the same would have happened had we been living in Yorke; although in Yorke I'd just have been banished to another part of the house, there to pace or pretend to busy myself with work or to get drunk (as many new fathers do, so I am told).

But our living space on the former sloop Le-Blaireau is too small for that. I found myself pacing up and down the original portion of the Avenue, from the bank to Le Blaireau and then through it to a sort of balcony where I can look out on the other two sloops, not yet warped into place.

It is a short distance to pace. But on my third return to the bank I found Marc waiting for me; and he and the other men of Grand-Blaireau led me away to the bath house, there to distract me from what was going on in my quarters. There was hot water, and laughter, and, yes, a vast quantity of ale. I can feel it in my head even now. Marc talked about the rebellion, and I talked about our plans for building sky-wagons and how to make the best of our time and our limited lumber supply.

Our current wagons are simple pieces of work with open railings on the sides. The wood is hardened throughout, so they are nearly indestructible, but because they are open they do not offer much protection to the men or goods inside them. But because they are hardened everywhere they are costly in our dearest coin, which is to say my time and effort. That is not work which I can delegate.

I suppose I must find an apprentice. That will be hard, for it is rare to find a lad with the talent to become a former; and then, of course, as a journeyman I am forbidden by guild law to take and train an apprentice. How I wish I knew whether my father or his rival granted me my mastership! Even now, my master's chain may be waiting for me in Mont-Havre, or perhaps hiding in some Provençese commander's coffer. If only I could know that were so! It is the position that matters, not the possession.

But that sky-ship has sailed. I might as well be hanged for a goat as a kid.

And so I must change the design of the sky-wagons. I have decided that we need two kinds: one for general transport, and one for carrying men into battle. The first will be similar to our current wagons in appearance, but only the lifting and control elements will be formed and hardened. In the main, they shall simply be normal wood—and, alas, sometimes green wood at that, for there is no time to allow it all to season. The second kind will have solid rather than opened sides for protection, with loopholes through which the men might shoot at their enemies, and will be hardened throughout. There, at least, the greenness of the wood will be no hindrance, for once the wood is hardened it will no longer matter.

Marc thinks that it might be desirable to have two classes of transport wagon: one as I have described, and perhaps a second kind containing lifting elements only—and that only enough to keep the wagon-bed level and off the ground. This latter kind would be pulled by horses or mules. He is thinking that they would be quicker to build in quantity, as they would take less of my time, and would be more useful in rough terrain than normal ground wagons with wheels. I disagree; much of Armorica is forested, and a ground wagon, whether floating or wheeled, cannot get through the woods without cutting a path through the trees. A true sky-wagon can always ascend above the tree tops.

The discussions and revelry continued through the night, though not of course at the bath house all of that time, or we would have become waterlogged. And then, as the dawn was breaking, Madame Truc came to us and told me that Amelie was perfectly well and had given me a baby girl.

I joined them; and then I could not sleep, so I have been writing this. Marc has ordered me to rest today, and perhaps tomorrow as well: to take joy in my little Anne-Marie, to take care of Amelie, and to sleep as and when I can; and to start again in earnest on my work the day after.

This is not the future I imagined for my child, born into war and rebellion. I imagined living quietly with Amelie in our shop, with our sons and daughters around us, learning the trade, and perhaps finding that one of my lads had the skill to follow me as a former. Instead, here we are, at war with Provençe, and perhaps with some of our Armorican countrymen too. Here I am, building weapons of war. I suppose it is little different than what I would have been doing had I stayed in Yorke, under my father's thumb; for surely the Former's Guild is involved in the construction of His Majesty's navy, and I expect that other work is at a standstill. I am merely working retail rather than wholesale. But I look forward to the day when we may live in peace here, and my creations may transport goods rather than men-at-arms.

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Letters from Armorica- The Goat’s Head (10 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Onc' Herbert is dead. The Provençese cochons have killed him. Marc brought us word just after sundown.

They came to Onc' Herbert's farm this afternoon, looking for the men who took and burned their sloop. Their two remaining sloops found the wreckage this morning, one landing and one keeping watch, as the man we left behind reported to me later. They found the "hideout" and the false trail to the east, as we had intended that they should, but it seems that they were not fooled—or, perhaps, we over-estimated their industry. My man reports that instead of following the trail they returned to Bois-de-Bas; and they went to see Onc' Herbert.

I suppose it is not surprising. Bois-de-Bas has no mayor, and no elected officials, no guild-halls or equivalents. It is governed by what we in Cumbria might call a town meeting and my fellow townsfolk call "Sunday afternoon at the hot springs," and by the standard of the hot springs, Onc' Herbert has long been the town's leading elder. In the current crisis it is he, as much as anyone, who has been directing events, as even les cochons have the wit to notice.

The sloops landed in a field near Onc' Herbert's farm house, crushing the rows beneath them, and one fired a gun. Their commander, Capitaine Le Clerc, called for Onc' Herbert to come out. He did; and Le Clerc's men laid hands on him as his people watched, clearly intending to carry him off and interrogate him.

One of the younger farmhands, a lad named Michel, sneaked away and released Onc' Herbert's remaining goats into the farm yard, whipping them on with a length of rope—and the goats went forth like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Provençese sailors were greatly surprised, and I think we can regard the question as settled: Armorican goats are not like Provençese goats.

I do not know what young Michel was thinking, or whether he acted on his own. It is entirely possible that he did what he did on Onc' Herbert's orders. The Provençese lay about them with their guns and cutlasses, and Capitaine Le Clerc took off one goat's head with a single stroke of his sword. His men—those who weren't injured—took hold of Michel. And with the head of the goat laying at his feet, Le Clerc drew his pistol and put a bullet in Michel's brain.

That was enough. The folk of Armorica are not Provençese peasants, easily cowed by authority. Or, at least the folk of Bois-de-Bas are not. Onc' Herbert's folk rose up, then, and attacked the cochons—and thanks to Le Clerc's decision to quarter his men in the village proper, Onc' Herbert had many more people on his farm than normal despite having sent some here to Grand-Blaireau. Everyone fought. Elise Frontenac killed two herself, taking them from behind with her belt-knife.

Onc' Herbert was killed by the men holding him when the fighting started; and he and Michel were not the only casualties. Étienne the drover was killed as well, attacking Onc' Herbert's killers, and M. Tremblay's son Alain, among others; and many were wounded. Marc himself has a cut on his forehead and a gash on his leg, and if he'd had to walk to Grand-Blaireau we would not have seen him this night.

But Le Clerc and his men are dead.

I was not there, but I heard about what happened next from M. Tremblay.

When the fighting was over, Marc called for a shovel, and driving it into the ground upright, he took the goat's head and placed it on the end. And he gathered his folk around him, and he said, "Le Maréchal and his men think we are goats to be herded and slaughtered to his benefit. We are not, as these men have found out. It is no longer enough just to protect Bois-de-Bas; we must drive les cochons from Armorica." He waved at the goat's head. "And this: this will be our standard."

I can picture him, tall, haggard with pain, and blood dripping down the side of his face from his wound. "First we must bury the dead. Then we shall send messengers to all of the towns and villages along the frontier. And then, together, we shall retake Mont-Havre."

Most of us men here on the island returned with Marc to help; I have only just returned. Tomorrow, Amelie and I, and all of those of us who remain here on Grand-Blaireau, will descend to Bois-de-Bas for the funerals; and when we return we shall bring the two sloops here and strip them and convert them into living and working space. With two of them we can extend the Avenue clear across the river and begin to open up the land on the other side.

We shall need the space. I had thought we might all return to Bois-de-Bas now that we are coming into the open; but Marc said not. "This must be our base," he said. "You are our secret weapon. We haven't the skill or training to operate the sky-sloops in battle; and so we must rely on you if we are to bring the battle to les cochons. We will need sky-wagons and sleds in great numbers." He laid a hand on my shoulder. "You must never be taken. I'm sorry, Armand, but here you must stay until our victory is complete."

It is hard for me. But he is right, as Amelie is quick to confirm. And with our child coming any time now, it would be hard to be away from her for long.

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Letters from Armorica- The Ambush (7 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The men have returned from their excursion, and the Provençese cochons are down one sloop. The crew were slain to the last man, which I suppose was an unspoken part of the plan, and the sloop burned. I find that I am both pleased and appalled.

Jacques Poquêrie led the group. Having prepared the "hideout" in the grotto, they kept watch for any patrolling sloop; and when one came in sight they laid an ambush. A man in the grotto let a fire smoke briefly and then put it out, just as though a cooking fire had briefly got out of hand. And when les cochons landed to investigate, our men were hidden in and among the trees.

All of our men had guns, and several had bows, for it is not that long since the village had to be completely self-sufficient. We are, after all, on the frontier. There were perhaps thirty men on the sloop, and five were downed by arrows before the rest knew anything was amiss. Several more were taken by bullets, and then our men fell back further into the woods. After that it was like a deadly game of tag. Most of our men led the Provençese sailors further into the woods, picking them off one by one; the rest descended upon the sloop in sky-sleds and fell upon the five left to guard it from above. That was a great risk, for if even one of the cochons had escaped we would be lost.

But I find I haven't the heart to remonstrate with them today.

I am surprised at how easily we have had it against the Provençese to date. Our men know the local forests and ground perfectly well, having hunted in them since they were small, whereas it seems that these sailors are no woodsmen, and are more used to fighting ship-to-ship than on land. I also expect that le Maréchal is keeping his best troops for the main front with the Cumbrians: the sailors left to guard the sloop should certainly have been keeping an eye on the skies, but I am told they were crowded against the rail, trying to track the path of their fellows by the sounds of the shooting.

We lost no one, though there were a number of cuts and scrapes and one sprained ankle; for Jacques, leaped from the sky wagon on their return in his eagerness to share the good news, and came down upon a loose stone. It did not dampen his spirits.

Now we wait for them to discover the burned remains of the sloop. One of our men stayed behind, equipped with a sky-sled; he is in a blind overlooking the remains and will stay there until the Provençese have come and gone.

I wish I could inform our folk in Bois-de-Bas of today's victory, but I was told not to risk it. As of now, only those two know of our plans; and it will go easier with the townsfolk if they do not need to feign surprise when the Provençese command questions them.

There remain two sloops; I greatly fear that they will patrol in tandem in the future. If one stands off while the other lands we will have a great deal more difficulty in taking them.

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Letters from Armorica- News (2 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

News, at last! We had a visit from Marc Frontenac late this evening, and none too soon. I was delighted to see him. He came to us quietly after twilight, and left perhaps two hours later. It was a pity that he was not able to stay until morning and speak to everyone here, but I shall have to do that myself. As it is, I shall have to judge carefully what I say and what I do not. For now, I am recording this in the hold of Le Blaireau by the light of a handglow that I will extinguish the moment I am done. Everyone else has long since gone to bed.

The Provençese cochons have taken over all of the best houses in the village itself; the townsfolk, those who aren't here on the island, have either dispersed to outlying farms or are living cheek-by-jowl in the smaller homes that remain. Onc' Herbert himself has taken in many.

Passions are running high. The townsfolk are angry, as is only natural, and les cochons are angry for they have not found any evidence of their missing sloops. There have been no brawls, to my surprise, but then most of the younger men are gone—are here on the island, in fact. But there have been harsh words, and harsh looks, and I am glad for her sake that Amelie's friend Brigitte has come to us, for soldiers are soldiers everywhere.

The Provençese have been scouting the surrounding area by day and by night and have found nothing; yet they are certain that there must be something, for the missing sloops never made it to the adjoining regions.

Onc' Herbert has decided that it is time to give them something to find. Tomorrow night I shall send a group of men to a grotto well to the east of Bois-de-Bas. It is one of the larger grottoes in the vicinity, and well known to the young men of the town, who often use it as a hunting camp, or go out there for the night as a kind of adventure. It is too distant from the town for casual use, not like the grottoes where our hot springs are; and it is hard enough to find if you don't know the way that it is unlikely that les cochons have found it. The men will set it up as a base for insurgents: fresh fires, a modicum of foodstuffs, and other evidence of recent occupation. It will not be hard to make it convincing, given its past history. And there they shall stay until the next sloop comes by on patrol. They shall draw it in and take it and burn it, and then flee to the east on foot.

And when night falls, then of course they shall return here by air, leaving no trace.

I had many questions.

Why burn the sloop in place? Why not make it disappear altogether? But that of course is the point: the Provençese do not know what is happening to their men and materiel. Here we shall give them something to see, and a trail leading away from Bois-de-Bas. They will send a patrol and find the downed sloop; they will most likely find the "base", and will certainly find the trails to the east; they will discover that none of the townsfolk they have seen are missing, and that there is no fresh trail to or from Bois-de-Bas; and they will spend much time looking farther afield, where there is nothing to be found.

I also asked about the base. If it is well-hidden, why not use it as a base in actuality? Why plan to cede its location to the enemy? Marc told me that it was too well-known. Everyone in Bois-de-Bas but us newcomers knows of it, and all the men older than twelve know how to get there. The folk of Bois-de-Bas are stalwart against le Maréchal's interlopers, but les cochons are ruthless. Someone would talk. Better to give it to them at a time of our choosing. And if by chance they do not find the grotto on this occasion, perhaps we can repeat this again in a week's time.

And besides, he said with a nudge and a wink, we have a better base. I am afraid that I blushed.

I shall have to ask for volunteers for this escapade, but I'm sure there will be no lack of them. The difficulty will lie in keeping Bertrand's lads here on the island. I should quite like to go myself, for that matter, but Marc strictly forbade me to do so; and if he had not, I am sure that any number of voices here on the island would say the same, starting with my darling Amelie. I confess I am glad to remain here with her. Her time is near, and so she sits in our apartment here on Le Blaireau, knitting blankets and such like, and Jean-Baptiste comes in twice a day to consult, and to visit Brigitte.

Things move quickly during war-time, and I think we shall have another wedding quite soon.

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Letters from Armorica- Waiting (31 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The last three days have been among the longest in my life, not excluding the weeks spent on the Lombard in transit to Armorica. No fires, no light at night, no building during the day, nothing to do but sit and worry. It is not good for me; it is not good for any of us except Amelie, who in her condition might well do a good deal more sitting and resting than she has been willing to. It seems to me that our child might come any day, but she assures me that there remains at least two more weeks.

For myself, I have tried to keep busy, for forming, at least, is not a noisy endeavor in and of itself, and there is useful work I can do. It can be cold at night, here on our island in the sky, and while light is forbidden there is no reason for us to be cold, not while I still have my skills. The same kind of heating blocks I provided to the bathhouse to heat the water can be used, if carefully contained, to heat tents and huts. The blocks in the bathhouse I made of metal, brought from Bois-de-Bas for the purpose; but metal is scarce here on the island and so I am forced to make do with wood, and wood is tricky for this purpose: even hardened wood will burn if it gets too hot. Thus, the heating blocks I am producing now will provide a gentle warmth, but are no good for cooking. They will not even boil water.

If this goes on for long I may need to re-purpose the bathhouse heaters. I wish we had more metal on hand.

In the meantime we are keeping watch, keeping silence, and waiting for word from Bois-de-Bas. We have heard nothing more; all we know is what we can see from our watch posts—and Bertrand’s boys have been keeping careful watch. They tell me that the three new Provençese sloops have been quartering the region, sailing slowly hither and yon. No doubt they are looking for encampments. They can see for themselves that many of the villagers are missing, including many of the young men; no doubt they imagine that there is a band of them out in the woods who are responsible for the loss of their sloops and men. It would be funny if it were not so serious: here we are, high above them, watching their efforts; and yet we are not the ones responsible for their losses, but rather Onc’ Herbert and his hunters. Les Cochons are living in the very “bandit encampment” for which they are searching, and they do not know it!

So they are searching, and that is well and good, for there is nothing for them to find. But what are they doing in Bois-de-Bas? What are they doing to our friends and families? A deputation came to me today; one of Jacques Pôquerie’s helpers wants to take a sled and investigate the village. I had to forbid him, of course, for if he were discovered, all would be lost. I told him that Onc’ Herbert would surely send Étienne or Marc with news if there was anything we needed to know. I pray he will, and soon.

But of course Jacques’ man is simply bored, tired of waiting, tired of nothing to do; and his imagination is filling his head with all manner of evils that might be taking place on the ground.

Perhaps tomorrow I will send the young men out to thoroughly explore the rest of the island. We have had no time for that, hitherto. We established the watch posts around the rim, and the paths to and from them, and we have done a modicum of hunting; but most hunting has been done in the forests below, now that Old Man Blaireau is no more and his fur graces Amelie’s bed, and for the rest our efforts have been directed to building our homes here. I still hope to find caves or grottoes big enough for our community to hide in, and maybe even to dwell in. It would be well to be underground and out of sight should les Cochons come calling.

Some folk might be unwilling to move underground, but I know my people. Grottoes come naturally to the folk of Bois-de-Bas; and all I need do is move the bathhouse first, and all the folk will follow.

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Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (28 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Nearly the worst has happened: the Provençese cochons have come to Bois-de-Bas in force, and established a garrison in the village, bringing three sky-sloops and a full company of troops in addition to the crews. Marc and Elise have been ejected from the shop, which they had been running in our absence; it has been taken over by their quartermaster. Others have been ejected from their homes as well.

It seems that the Provençese commander in Mont-Havre, Général La Salle, has become suspicious of the number of sky sloops that have been lost in the vicinity of Bois-de-Bas, and sent the garrison here to find out what has been happening to them, and to put a stop to it. Beyond that, I know very little.

The first we knew was when Jean-Pierre, one of Bertrand’s lads, flew right into the Avenue on a sled, bellowing “Les cochons, les cochons.” He had been manning the western watch post and seen them with his spyglass when they were still on the horizon. He is a good lad, and will not be made to tend the goats any time soon.

Étienne was here making a delivery—not of goats, for which God be praised—and leaving his sky-wagon where it lay, he took one of my first man-sized sky-sleds back to town to give the alert. He is a brave man as he had never flown one before, for I must say that flying head first at speed between the trees while lying prone in a sky-sled is very different thing from moving more sedately in a sky-chair or wagon!

We had been preparing for this, of course. There are a fair number of sky-vessels in in Bois-de-Bas, now, and it would be fatal for les Cochons to find them—even if it did not turn their attention to the skies, which it surely would, it would reveal that I am still in the vicinity. It would also remove our advantage in short order, for there is little difficult about forming a sky-chair or wagon once you have the knack. But we had laid plans, as I say, and within a quarter of an hour of Étienne’s return, every chair and wagon in Bois-de-Bas was on the way north under cover of the trees while the Provençese vessels were still miles off. Their drivers left them in a hidden spot near the lake shore and returned to the village, and this evening after dark my men descended in Étienne’s wagon and flew them all home to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau. Now they are all stacked higgledy-piggledy among the trees on the edge of the encampment.

Étienne has retained the sky-sled, which he will have stashed in a safe place; it is essential that the village has a means of communication with the island. It should not matter if it is found; it is much less obviously a conveyance than a chair or wagon, appearing to be little more than a simple wooden frame. I hope that Marc will use it to come to us as soon as safely may be. There is much we can do to harry them, if we are careful, but we must have information; and of course there is much concern here in the encampment, for everyone here has friends or family remaining in the village and its environs.

In the meantime we have disguised our settlement here on the island as best we can. We have stopped all building, all hammering and pounding, and the fires have been put out. Even the use of candles and lanterns has been forbidden: the Provençese commander in Bois-de-Bas shall certainly notice that many folk are missing, and I would not be surprised if he were to conduct night patrols with his sloops looking for signs of cooking fires. If they should fly directly overhead we shall be lost in an instant; but islands are common in the skies of Armorica, and everywhere ignored, and if we take care I have every hope that we shall be above notice.

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Letters from Armorica- The Sky Goats (24 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I very much appreciate the several wagon-loads of livestock you sent us yesterday, especially the chickens, for they will go a long way toward making our little hidden settlement self-sustaining should les Cochons du Maréchal come in force. But I ask you, was it really necessary to send us your goats?

Without warning? Seriously?

I picture you sitting in your big chair at the head of the table, guffawing at my expression when I discovered I had received a wagon-load of les chèvres du Diable. Whatever you imagined, it was less than the reality, as I’m sure Étienne was quick to inform you. At least you had your men put the goats in chains for the wagon ride, so we could keep them contained until we had a place to put them! Étienne wanted to leave immediately, for which I cannot blame him after a flight with a cargo of goats; but when I learned that he meant to let the goats go free, to roam the village and despoil men, women, and children, I am afraid I had to threaten him with violence.

Yes, Onc’ Herbert, I did. I threatened to chain him to one of the goats for the afternoon. More than that, I had to call a halt to the work that was going on so that my men could build a stout pen for the pernicious beasts, and I made Étienne fall in and help.

I have been wondering, did you bring these goats with you from Provençe, or did you find them here, in Armorica? I seem to remember meeting some goats on a farm in Cumbria when I was a small boy, and they weren’t like these goats. They were smaller, and they had gentle eyes, quite without that little red glow deep inside. I remember, I was able to pet them with my bare hands without abrading the skin from my palms, and I had no fear of turning my back on them. So are these Armorican goats, or are they Provençese, relatives of Le Maréchal, perhaps?

Speaking of palms, could you send us some leather gloves? Or at least some leather, so we can make some? Amelie is due soon, and as tempting as it would be to slaughter the goats for their hides I am afraid that we may need their milk. And for that, we shall need gloves.

My only consolation is that my regular duties leave me no time to be directly responsible for the care of the goats. Well, and I suppose it does give me another handle on young Bertrand and the other lads, and on the young men. Not that I will assign goat-keeping as a punishment, mind you. Far from it. I shall set up a rotation, and shall excuse people from goat-keeping as a reward for hard service and heroic effort. Building should go more quickly in the future.

Aha! Amelie has returned from the bath house; it is now the mens’ turn. I must go.

Goats. Bah.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Sleds (22 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

First, my thanks for the many wagon-loads of supplies you have sent to us over the past week. I begin to think you are stripping the barns and storehouses of Bois-de-Bas quite bare! Fortunately the lads have found some grottoes we can use for storage, or we should have been quite unable to get it all under cover. I know, of course, that you are sending it to us not for our own use, but to keep it out of the hands of Le Maréchal‘s men when they come, but as more and more of the villagers come here to the encampment the supplies are quite necessary. And indeed, our simple encampment is looking more and more like a village. The simple tents on the ground are being replaced by what I might call demi-cabins, with wooden floors but canvas roofs; some even have the beginnings of wooden roofs. The little church is coming along slowly, and the bathhouse has become a great comfort to all of us. Le Blaireau scarcely resembles a sloop any longer, being more of an inn and community center. Her masts and cordage have been taken for other uses (her canvas went long ago); windows have been opened everywhere, giving light to the spaces within; and she is connected to both banks of the river by a pair of permanent bridges that connect to a passage way of sorts cut through her hull. My folk here have taken to calling it the Avenue.

The space just forward of the Avenue is now my former’s shop; it is central, so I am always available for questions, and I have a desk for my work managing the encampment in the afternoons. The space aft of the Avenue is my Amelie’s domain where she manages the encampment’s stores. We can’t keep the stores all in one place anymore, and it is easier for her, in her condition, to work from Le Blaireau than to go out to her old spot on the bank. Not that she will be able to keep it up much longer! Indeed, she is spending most of her days sitting in a comfortable armchair directing others in the work.

And speaking of that, thank you so much for sending us Brigitte! She has been a great consolation to Amelie, for I find that they are old friends; and Amelie is teaching her what she must know to help out in managing the stores. Brigitte is also, as I’d hoped, assisting Madame Truc in nursing poor Jean-Baptiste! It is embarrassing for him, I think, having such a pretty girl see him so low, but at least it has brought color back to his cheeks. And this morning, to my delight, he agreed to be carried down to sit with me in my former’s shop. He could only manage it for a little over and hour before he had to be returned to his bed, but we had much conversation in that time, and I noticed that his eyes were much on a certain person at the counter on the other side of the Avenue.

I believe I have solved the communication problem, at least here on Grand-Blaireau. As Onc’ Herbert may have told you, we have our lookouts around the perimeter of the island: the lads of Bois-de-Bas, led by Bertrand and Jean-Marc. They are all much steadier now they have something to occupy them! But when they spy something it is a long and weary slog for them back to the encampment, the more so as we have not had time to cut proper trails. It would leave little enough time for us here to prepare for a direct attack, let alone to pass word along to you down below. But I have come up with a solution: the sky-sled!

Imagine a sled, just big enough for the occupant to lie prone, but with the runners extending above instead of below. The entire package is not much bigger than one of the lads. I have now built two of them; they are light and speedy, and can maneuver deftly between trees and over briars. Each of the lookout points will have one, to be used to alert the encampment, and I intend that each of the boys will be trained in their use.

I admit that I was concerned that the lads would take them skylarking and do themselves injuries, but my Amelie had the answer to that. She took Bertrand and his lieutenant aside. “Those who fly recklessly shall not be allowed to fly at all,” she told them. “And my husband will hold you two responsible.” That put a stop to their capers. Young Bertrand would be mortified to be grounded when others can yet fly, and he has the others firmly under his thumb.

The sleds are easy to form, delightfully so after all my work with sky-wagons; they are light, and hardened throughout so that they are nearly indestructible. I should have enough for our needs soon. You might consider whether you could use a sled or two for your scouts—they carry less than a two-man sky-chair, and are far less comfortable; but they can go more places, they are easier to hide, and of course they leave no tracks.

The next challenge is how best to communicate what we learn to you on the ground. I have no good solution; but I’m thinking a sled relay might be best. When we see something, we send a sled to the lake shore, using the waterfall for cover. You keep a man with a sled or sky-chair on duty there, to carry word along to you and Onc’ Herbert.

I wish there were a way for us to use semaphores of some kind; but I cannot think of anything that would be visible to your men on the ground that wouldn’t possibly be visible to les Cochons as well. For them to find our encampment would be a waste of all of our hard work, and as our establishment here grows in size I find I am nervous even about sending out so much as a sled out during daylight hours. I have already constrained the hunters to go out before dawn and not return until after dark.

Armand

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